Bison Feast at Chief Plenty Coups Day of Honor

Bison Feast at Chief Plenty Coups Day of Honor

July 19, 2011  |  Drive, Handmade, history, Story, Towns

One of the neatest late-summer events I have ever attended is Chief Plenty Coups Day of Honor; a daylong celebration of cultural sharing designated to honor the great Apsaalooke (Crow) Chief. Now in its 17th year, the event takes place on Saturday of Labor Day Weekend at the 195-acre Chief Plenty Coups State Park (Embed link: one mile east of Pryor on Montana’s Crow Reservation (about 40 minutes from Billings).

At the crack of dawn, Park employees begin roasting enough buffalo to feed 600 guests in a giant pit built especially for the occasion. (It slow-roasts for twelve, juicy hours, yielding the most tender and delicious meat I have ever tasted.)

Meanwhile, craft vendors and artists set up tables with shell earrings, beaded items, Native American dolls, and paintings. Guests roll in with lawn chairs, heading straight for the towering cottonwoods that surround Chief Plenty Coups house—a two-story cabin where interpreters are on-hand to give tours.

2010’s Day of Honor featured Crow artists and craftspeople, as well as eight storytellers who’d lectured at the Park throughout the summer. They sat on the cabin’s front porch, at picnic tables or under canopies telling tales of pictographs, Chief Sore Belly, the Arrow Creek Battle and giving sign talking demonstrations. My kids just loved it.

Guests wandered from speaker to speaker and into the museum or visited Chief Plenty Coups’ grave. Many also walked the .56 mile interpretive trail that winds around the park amid chokecherry bushes and wild plumbs. Kids climbed around on the large playground, and vendors sold fry bread and lemonade at a frantic pace.

The Well-Known Drum Group sang intermittently as dancers–from tiny tots to teenagers—performed, bells jingling and elk teeth shaking.

“There’s also a Medicine Springs here,” says Susan Stewart, Park Manager, of a clear spring near the house. “It’s a very sacred site for many people, and it was sacred to Chief Plenty Coups as well. Many people come here and sit and meditate by the springs. It’s a very spiritual place.” Tied to a tree, dozens of prayer flags and offerings flutter in the breeze.

At the end of the day, around 3:30, the event culminates with a bison feast that’s free and open to the public. “It’s pretty typical in Native cultures to feed their guests,” says Stewart. And boy, do they feed you here. Plates heaped with roasted bison, corn on the cob, fry bread, watermelon and berry pudding are placed on picnic tables beneath a white tent. Lemonade and coffee are swilled as people sit around visiting or tossing horseshoes.

The State Parks website for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, says of Chief Plenty Coups State Park, “All people are invited to participate in the Chief’s great legacy of promoting peace, harmony, and cultural understanding among all races.” I don’t know how else to say it: There’s definitely some good karma floating around this serene and special place, and the Day of Honor is a fine time to soak it all in.


Chief Plenty Coups State Park

DRIVING DIRECTIONS: From Billings take Exit 447 off I-90 and travel 35 miles south to Pryor. Then turn right and head west 1 mile. (Lat 45.429 – Lng 108.549)

Chief Plenty Coups Day of Honor will take place this year on Saturday, September 3, 2011. Admission to the Park is FREE on this day.

Chief Plenty Coups State Park is open for day use May 1 – September 30. The Museum is open May 1 – September 30 and by appointment in the off-season.

Day Use: $5.00 Non-Resident, Vehicle
Walk or Bike In: $3.00 Non-Resident Per Person

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